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It seems that everywhere I look this month I’m reminded of a major and growing trend that’s increasingly impacting the way that every business needs to think.

It’s this: customer expectations are rising faster than a bunch of helium balloons on a calm day. Especially when it comes to digital.

What does this mean and how can you go about meeting and managing your customers’ expectations?

The Amazon effect

I recently placed an order with the online gardening retailer Crocus. It has an extensive selection of plants, the site is well designed, and I’ve bought from it before and been really happy with the service.

Here are the order details from my confirmation email.

Crocus order summary

Great. I’m looking forward to receiving the bulk of my order in 2-3 days and the onion sets in about four weeks.

A few days later, no delivery. I send Crocus an email. You know where this is going.

Below the list of items is a short sentence that I hadn’t noticed:

Suddenly I’m less happy. My expectations are higher. If I think about this logically I know that not every retailer can offer the split delivery service of Amazon and that the error was perhaps in my assumption, but it doesn’t matter.

The coffee shop effect

Free Megaweb

Coffee shops have long offered free wi-fii. Now, many retailers, restaurants and bars do too. For the price of a cuppa you can quickly connect and browse away to your heart’s content.

So why do so many hotels still charge? And charge so much?

Alex Polizzi (hotelier, grand-daughter of Rocco Forte, and the UK media’s go-to hotel guru) commented on this recently in The Telegraph. “Why should hotel guests pay for WiFi? This is the question that I am asked more often than any other”.

I believe her. When I led digital marketing for IHG, owner of brands such as Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental, I heard it too.

The reasons are logical: high costs from legacy contracts and impractical old buildings.

Does knowing this change the customer's opinion? Not even slightly, as a poll immediately following Polizzi’s remarks attests with 92.5% of the (currently) 1,900 votes answering the question "Are hotel WiFi charges acceptable?" with a resolute: No!

The [input your own] effect

There are tons of other examples that spring to mind. The Twitter effect on customer service, for example. I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

What to do, what to do…

What are businesses to do when they’re being measured against their direct competitors and against the very best from other sectors across the globe?

I think the approach is three-pronged:

1. Get inside your customer’s head

McKinsey&Company references this in a useful article called The do-or-die questions boards should ask about technology, posing three key questions to address about customer experience and expectation.

The good news is that the digital landscape that’s compounding this issue can also assist with understanding it through social listening tools, online feedback and the like.

2. Meet the expectation

If it’s possible and affordable, make it happen.

3. Manage the expectation

If you can’t make it happen, or happen soon, have a clear plan and communication strategy for how you’ll manage and respond to expectations that aren’t being met.

As always, continuing to understand your customers as their wider world evolves is key

Knowing you’re listening to feedback, and adapting where you can, may be enough for many to continue to hold you in high esteem.

Unless you’re a hotel charging for WiFi.

Jo Hill

Published 8 October, 2013 by Jo Hill

Jo Hill specialises in digital strategy and leadership and is a contributor to Econsultancy. Connect with Jo through LinkedInTwitter and Google Plus

7 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Scottie Leonard

Hey Jo,

Nice article!!! Well thinking from customer point of view, mine expectation will also obviously rise high and expect more better within sufficient budget. That why as a marketer or businessman, one should plan very well about managing the expectation and getting into customers' head. Thanks for sharing the article.

over 2 years ago

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Richard

When you have checked into a hotel and discovered you have to pay for the wifi your unlikely to change hotel, so the hotel has an 'unwilling customer' for their expensive wifi, versus a coffee shop where if you don't like the coffee or the wifi there's another shop across the road.

over 2 years ago

Jo Hill

Jo Hill, Digital Strategy and Leadership at Freelance/Interim

Thanks Scottie.

Agree the models are different, Richard. I think the sentiment is captured by this Maya Angelou quote:

"...people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

over 2 years ago

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